Penance (2009)
By: Julian on September 9, 2011  | 
Monster Pictures | All Regions, NTSC | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 82 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jake Kennedy
Starring: Marieh Delfino, Graham McTavish, Alice Amter, Valorie Hubbard. Michael Rooker
Screenplay: Jake Kennedy
Country: USA
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Penance – not to be confused with another POV film, Fred Vogel's much-maligned SFX reel August Underground: Penance – is writer/director Jake Kennedy's second horror feature, and it is a twisted and extreme morality tale that is relentlessly mean-spirited and often quite disturbing.

Marieh Delfino (Jeepers Creepers 2) plays Amelia, a desperate woman struggling to pay her child's medical bills. With the encouragement of her friend Suzie (Eve Mauro), Amelia takes up a side job as a stripper. When Suzie is beaten black-and-blue, Amelia reluctantly agrees to fill in for her. The job is at a secret location for a mystery client. When Amelia gets there, she and the rest of her party are met by Mann (the inimitable Michael Rooker, who doesn't spend nearly enough time on-screen here). Mann shoots Amelia's friend dead and takes them to the client, Geeves (Graham McTavish). Geeves is a psychopathic ob/gyn, removed from practice after performing sickening mutilations on his patients. In retirement, Geeves whiles his time away by targeting women he believes are in need of 'purification'.

Graham McTavish, a Scottish actor who is generally cast in hard-man supporting roles, plays his utterly evil character unnervingly well. Local viewers might be somewhat unsettled to note that Geeves is based on home-grown nutter Graeme Reeves, a New South Wales obstetrician very recently sentenced for mutilating a woman who came under his care. Reeves, the 'Butcher of Bega', becomes Geeves, the 'Butcher of Baker', and Kennedy, who spent some time in Australia, takes Reeves' reprehensible crimes and makes them a few orders of magnitude more grotesque. In Penance, Geeves, a multiple murderer whose motives are driven by a psychotic vision of moral propriety, holes himself up in a dank dungeon with brutal henchmen and sharp tools, as his cronies spend their time finding new victims for their deranged boss. He is the ultimate, lurking predator.

Penance is a highly effective exploitation effort for two reasons: it has a devastatingly grim plot that I've explained in some detail already, and it is also quite impressive technically-speaking. The film is shot in the same hand-held style as Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and Quarantine, although the camerawork is steadier than any of those films. The handheld cinematography doesn't necessarily make much difference to the film, although it does allow the characters to address the camera directly, which is a useful way of quickly dispensing with background information and tying up plot lines (the film begins as a recruitment video of sorts, so we're introduced to Amelia quickly and rather comprehensively).

Penance is extremely violent, particularly in its depictions of male and female genital mutilation, although it bears noting that a lot of the more explicit stuff is out of view. Penance doesn't quite wallow in these elements as much as, say, Antichrist, but it is still in-your-face stuff. Kennedy's restraint in how he shoots this violence (with a leg in the way, or the camera focussing on facial expressions rather than the gore) makes us think we're seeing a lot more than we actually are. Even so, the overall tone of the movie should raise a few eyebrows: this has been passed uncut with an R18+ classification, and other films have been Refused Classification for much less.

Unfortunately, the two horror icons top-billed on the DVD slick have little more than cameo roles: Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) as Geeves' chilling henchman, and Tony Todd (Candyman) as a chauffeur. Marieh Delfino is pretty average, which is a pity – a powerhouse lead performance could have really elevated this film. McTavish is a stand-out in his portrayal of a villain with uncompromising brutality. Valorie Hubbard, another one of Geeves' goons, channels the iciest and most sadistic WIP movie warden, and she adds a little bit more menace to the film (not that it needs it).

Jake Kennedy's direction is excellent, and although I'm usually uncomfortable with POV cinematography, I think that method is quite effective here. Kennedy uses lighting and visual tricks well, mostly during those scenes of violence, but it also gives the dungeon a peculiarly creepy character: the seedy, unknown location is almost a character unto itself, and from the time we get to Geeves' lair, the sense of claustrophobia is pervasive. This claustrophobia, coupled with the ever-present threat (and frequent manifestation) of violence, makes Penance an incredibly unsettling and upsetting film.
The picture, presented in 16:9, is of adequate quality – the sort you'd expect from a low-budget POV horror movie such as this.
Like the video, the 5.1 channel audio is adequate for Penance's minimalist home video like aesthetic.
Extra Features
Wow. A real effort has been put into this set. Three alternate endings, five deleted scenes, two audio commentaries (one with Kennedy, the other with Kennedy and co-producer William Clevinger), a 24-minute behind the scenes featurette, a 19-minute interview with Kennedy, a 14-minute 'Anatomy of a Scene' featurette, 12-minutes of interviews with the cast (playing their respective characters; a neat touch), a 5-minute doco on the location scouting and a 3-minute feature 'How to Strip with Marieh and Eve'.

This comprehensive set, with several hours of extra features, is a nice mix of the informative and the frivolous. Bravo.
The Verdict
This is a particularly effective slice of extreme cinema, ably directed by Kennedy and powered mainly by ghoulish inventiveness. Penance is stark, disturbing, nihilistic and graphic: fans of modern horror cinema and exploitation should be pleased.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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